Feelin’ Crabby

Feelin’ Crabby

Joy and I were feeling a bit cooped up, so we ran to the gas station to get a paper on our golf cart. Then we just toodled around the neighborhood. We have a several little parks I think of as ‘mini-parks’ dotted around different neighborhoods on our island. We stopped at one and walked out on the dock where we saw this little guy.

Logan has been getting home schooled during the coronavirus lockdown where he has been taking a great online art course. The little crab we saw off the end of the dock reminded me of the beautiful work of art Logan had created. So, I made this little video and even wrote a crab song.

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No Church for Me

No Church for Me

If the video won’t play for you, please click here.

I’m a retired senior. Friday, I received an email from our pastor saying that, for now, we would not be holding services at the church building but would receive our Sunday message online. We had already abandoned first handshakes, then elbow bumps and hugs.

I’m guessing that many worshippers of many faiths are facing the same withdrawal from community. The significance of a pastor’s personal touch was driven home to me when I was a young man. Our pastor retired and I filled the pulpit for a couple of years after that. Our tiny congregation was very supportive of my messages but I noticed that in times of personal trial people were calling Joe instead of myself. I asked about that and they told me, “When Joe is with me, I just feel loved.”

I don’t go to church just to hear the message. Great speakers are readily available online. Actually, the message, as solid as Michelle’s sermons are, is one of the least important reasons I go. I go to experience worship in community. I go to hear Greg play the piano and chat with him about music after the service. Before the service, Michelle walks through the sanctuary with personal greetings for each of us. I go for the “passing of the peace” with other parishioners. I sing hymns every day at home, but I go because there is something special about hearing other voices join with mine in songs of worship. I go for the pastor’s hug at the door.

So, the dream I had Friday night after reading the email probably isn’t a surprise. I dreamed that I had been in a different town attending church. As I walked out, the pastor took my head in his hands and just smiled at me affectionately.

These are extraordinary times. You are not cut off from your people because you are not loved. Remind yourself that we aren’t gathering precisely because our fellowships love us and have our best interests at heart. May the peace of the Lord be with you.

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Ford v Kavanaugh: What would Jesus Do?

There is a scene in the Gospel of John where Jesus’ people, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, bring to Him a woman caught in adultery. But the secret is, in their eyes she wasn’t a woman, she was a test, a trap. Would Jesus join in their judgmental (in the most literal sense of the word) action of stoning her to death in accordance with the law or show mercy and demonstrate to the Scribes and the Pharisees that he wasn’t one of them?

But Jesus saw, not a litmus test of tribal loyalty, but a woman. He stooped down and started making marks in the dirt with a stick. Was he listing possible human sins? Was he just giving the religious mob time to reflect? Then he said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” As he continued to draw in the dirt, the mob broke up and drifted away.

The amazing thing to me about this story is that Jesus saw not only the woman as a valued human being but the hard-hearted Pharisees and Teachers of the Law as well. He gave them the opportunity to reflect on the truth that, without grace and mercy, the law condemns us all.

I think we desperately need this perspective today. I hear one tribe accusing Dr. Ford of lying and the other tribe accusing Justice Kavanaugh of sexual assault when no one actually knows. Opinions are not formulated based on fact, but speculation rooted in tribal loyalty. This approach fails to recognize the humanity of either Ford or Kavanaugh. And we who believe our government representatives are up to their eyeballs in tribalism, like myself, need to be reminded that Jesus could see the humanity even of those judgmental religious leaders in his day.

I have little doubt that in today’s world, Jesus would not choose a side, he would see a person – even in those we poor followers manage to dehumanize.

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Living La Vida Cordcutter

Apple's TV App is a Game Changer

I can’t say when, but at some point, the cable companies broke my will to accept their horrible service. Was it when I took time off from work and the service guy never showed? Was it sitting in their office with a little tag displaying a number that would take 45 minutes to be called?

Yet, I know there is something to be said for the value of watching TV via cable. For one thing, one never has to change apps to watch a different channel. There is no distinction between broadcast and cable channels. They all appear in the same guide. With all the mistakes that the cable companies made, that was one thing they got entirely right.

Comcast, with its, Xfinity service started to move in the right direction. You could schedule the DVR from any device and watch your channels on any device. But if you want to cancel or change your subscription, there is equipment to return and automated answering systems to work through. They will make you pay for your disloyalty in royal inconvenience.

Spectrum offers streaming local channels where I live. I tried their service with the hidden fee (what’s a cable company without hidden fees). It was so buggy I quickly gave it up and went back to my antennas.

And we really can’t emphasize enough that, after that first promotional rate year, cable TV is stinking expensive.

Here is my dream. I have one channel guide for everything that is live now – over the top (OTT) cable channels or broadcast. That guide can also serve to schedule recording programs. Recording includes the options of new episodes only or includes repeats or just the one episode. For sports events the scheduling includes padding the beginning and end times.

There is also a Watch Next section that shows me which of my favorite shows I have not yet viewed. I can edit this list when I decide that show is no longer a favorite. This list includes recorded programs and programs that stream whether from Hulu, CBS All Access, Vue, Sling, DirecTV or another source. The Followshows app Tracker tab is a good example of how this would work.

One Guide to Rule Them All

To my knowledge none of the OTT services besides Sling integrates antenna channels with cable channels in their channel guide. As a work around, Sling coordinates with the AirTV or AirTV Player and an HD antenna. Why isn’t this the most exciting news in this article?

The AirTV guide only integrates with the Sling TV guide on mobile devices or the AirTV Player which connects directly to a solitary TV. It doesn’t work with Sling TV on your Roku or Apple TV (although both devices do support an AirTV freestanding app). If they worked on these big screen devices, the universal guide would have been their biggest selling point.

With all OTT services on a Roku or Apple TV, one has to change inputs on their TV or apps on their device to watch OTA TV. There is no unified guide except with Sling and AirTV and that is only mobile devices or the AirTV Player, which works with only one TV at a time requiring a Player and an antenna for every TV in the house.

Watch Next

Sling has My TV which includes recorded shows but not series you stream on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon etc. Other OTT providers have some means to see which of your favorite shows you have yet to watch. The catch is that you need to open each of their apps to see which of the shows specific to that app are coming up.

Apple TV tries to fill this gap with their class leading and still flawed Apple TV App. Their ‘Up Next’ shows programs from Hulu, CBS All Access, PBS, CW and Amazon that are series you have watched in the past. Sadly, Netflix is absent from here. What’s missing besides Netflix? Shows from your OTT provider (e.g., Sling TV, DirecTV, Hulu Live, Vue, etc.).

Bonus: Use Movies Anywhere to bring all of your Vudu and Google Play movie and TV purchases into the Apple TV App alongside your iTunes purchased movies and TV episodes.

Roku’s My Feed is a much weaker compendium of shows available through your Roku channels or to buy or rent. Unlike the TV app, it does not offer movie previews to help you to decide if you want to follow an upcoming movie.

Neither the Apple TV App or My Feed include shows what you have on your OTT or OTA DVR.

OTA DVR

There are a number of ways to enjoy broadcast TV. Typically, I watch only news, award shows, and sports live. CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox I watch commercial free through CBS All Access and Hulu Plus. That leaves the CW and PBS which each have their own app. But if you’re not inclined to pay for CBS and Hulu or to change apps to watch CW or PBS or to change inputs to watch live TV, what’s a viewer to do?

For OTA DVR, one could use a Tivo Roamio ($400) and change inputs on the TV to see what is on the DVR. Or, one could use a SiliconDust network tuner and NAS or always-on-computer, a Tablo network tuner, or a less known system. Most over the air (OTA) DVR services require a subscription if you want to have the kind of DVR options mentioned above. These services require an additional app to those already on your device in order to use them.

My preferred versions of the above network tuners are the SiliconDust Connect Quattro($150) paired with a WD My Cloud NAS or a Tablo 4 Tuner DVR ($250) paired with USB storage. The Quattro needs a $35 per year guide subscription to work best. The Tablo offers a $5 per month, $50 per year, or $150 lifetime guide subscription. Both of these can stream to smart TVs, set top boxes, or mobile devices.

There is no SiliconDust app for Roku or Apple TV. You could watch using the Plex app with a Plex Pass subscription ($5/month, $40/year, or $120/lifetime). The live TV and DVR Plex Pass approach only works with Android TV and iOS devices – not Roku or Apple TV, however. The even more costly Channels app ($25 plus an $8/month subscription) does allow one to watch live or recorded OTA programs from a SiliconDust network tuner on the Apple TV. The initial cost for that approach would be $175 for the tuner and the Channels app and then $35 per year for SiliconDust DVR service and $8 per month for the Channels app subscription. The subscriptions alone run about $131 per year – for now.

Tablo has both a Roku and Apple TV app that allows streaming live OTA channels as well as an OTA DVR. Is that worth an extra $100 and more expensive subscription?

If I only had a one TV household, I would add for consideration the Tivo Roamio which includes a lifetime guide subscription, but few people only have one TV. And even if you only have one TV the AirTV Player would beat out the Tivo because the AirTV Player integrates the Sling and AirTV program guides. (Tivo Roamio doesn’t work with any of the OTT services.)

If you’re paying $23.54 per month for CBS All Access and Hulu Plus commercial free, you are paying $282 each year. You would pay off the Tablo with a lifetime subscription ($400) in 17 months. After that it would be free. The SiliconDust and Channels app approach has a lower initial cost but ongoing subscription costs. The cumulative cost for this approach becomes cheaper than CBS and Hulu in about 10 months. (But with either the Tablo or SiliconDust DVRs you have to skip through commercials.)

Apple’s TV app cannot keep track of what you watch on the Channels, Plex, nor Tablo apps. It works beautifully with the Hulu and CBS apps. None of the OTA program guides integrate with your OTT channel guide either.

Summary

As much as I like putzing around with electronics, I don’t want to manage a set top box and a tuner and a DVR.

I wish that Apple TV offered YouTube in 4K. It’s just lame that doesn’t do so. However, the TV app more than compensates for this. With its hooks into CBS All Access, Hulu, the CW and PBS I can watch all of my time-delayed broadcast shows from one App. What I can’t do is record the evening news or late night ball games. On rare occasion I would like to do that.

Having said all of this, my sweet spot is the Apple TV 4K, with its awesome Apple TV App which integrates with the CBS All Access, Hulu, CW, and PBS apps for shows from broadcast TV. I only need to leave the Apple TV App to watch Sling, Netflix, or YouTube or to start watching a new-to-me television series. If I were on cable I would still have to leave my cable box to watch Netflix or YouTube, so mostly I’ve lost the unified program guide and having to change between Apple’s TV app and the Sling TV app. That’s a price I’m willing to pay to never wait on the cable guy, stand in line at the cable store, or go through all of the hoops of dealing with their customer service calling tree on the phone. Even though it is more expensive than using Tablo or SiliconDust, I save about $50 a month over what I was paying Spectrum for cable.

I have to admit the thought of ditching the need for an antenna at every TV is enough to make me consider buying a network tuner, too. I could put the antenna where I get the best reception and the network tuner somewhere out of sight. If I get the not-yet-widely-released AirTV, my Sling and AirTV program guides will be unified (possibly on Roku but definitely not on Apple TV) and I can stream to a device that is not on my home WiFi network. As an alternative, if I got a Hauppauge Cord Cutter, I could pause live TV or record broadcast TV straight to my Apple TV. Viewing the Cord Cutter outside its home network is a planned software upgrade for this year, but it isn’t yet available.

Or maybe I’ll just put Linux on an old Windows computer, use one of my old tuners, and setup a Plex Server. 

Stay tuned to find out what I choose. (See what I did there?)

Fellow cord cutters, I would love to know how you handle simplifying your cable TV replacement. Feel free to reach me on Twitter (@tom4surfing).

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Tom’s Top Tech of 2017

Welcome to my sixth annual roundup of the top 10 consumer tech products of the past year. My criteria are entirely subjective. My goal is to identify tech products that provide consumers a great user experience with bonus points for being a great value.

Apple TV 4K

I have just about every set top device out there, but my Apple TV is the one I use regularly. I don’t do this because it has the most apps (tip of the hat to Roku). I don’t do it because I can see YouTube in its 4K glory. I do it because it is smooth and easy. The Apple TV 4K promises more of the same just at a higher resolution. Sadly, I still can’t use it to watch YouTube in 4K. That’s too bad because it is my second favorite source of 4K video after Netflix. Way pricier than the competition, starting at $179, but I still want one.

DJI Spark

You already have a great camera in your phone. Maybe you even have a “real” camera. You have an action camera you can strap to your mountain bike, snorkel mask, or other thrill-seeking apparatus. But what about making an establishing aerial view? The drone that breaks the barrier from requiring you to be a drone hobbyist to easy for the serious selfie-ist is the DJI Spark. So simple to operate that you can both fly it and take still or video selfies with nothing but hand gestures. It is way cool. I want a blue one. Starting at $499.

Sony’s 2017 Full Frame Cameras

With its A7 series of cameras, Sony put the camera world on notice that there was a new player in town. Although the controls weren’t as ergonomic as those of a Nikon or Canon, the battery-life was relatively pitiful, and there was no second memory card slot, the power of the OS and the quality of the images began to outstrip the competition.

Now, in 2017, Sony has delivered the A9 for professionals that has solved almost every issue (although still leaving room to improve in the menu system). With a big buffer and a monster 20 fps, I totally expect to see a lot more Sonys on the sidelines of NFL games. Arguably the best camera money can buy. At $4,500, I would still consider it to be a bargain.

But Sony also introduced the best value in a full frame camera, the Sony A7R III. A sort of baby brother to the A9, A7R III rings in at “only” $3,200. It ups the resolution to 42.4 MP, to boot. Even with the mechanical shutter, it will shoot at 8 fps. Sony has also finally included shooting in 4K on a high resolution camera making this camera a jack of all trades. The only downside is that you loose the Sony apps. That means there is no intervelometer for time lapse photography unless one purchases an external one. Sony, why this step backward? Hopefully, this will be resolved in a future firmware update.

Sonos One

Why pay $200 for a Sonos One when you get all the brains of Alexa in an Amazon Dot for $50? Because you love a great sounding speaker. Like chocolate and peanut butter, Sonos has married great speakers with a great personal assistant. (Ever notice how much “trite and true” sounds like “tried and true”?) Sonos leads the pack in wireless speaker sound. Preliminary testing indicates that the sound profile is similar to the popular Play:1. They’re fidgety to obnoxious to set up, but once you tune them the sound will blow you away. When I finished tuning my sister’s Play:1, the quality of the sound literally gave me goose pimples.

Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE

From the introduction of the Apple Watch, it has taken the wearable market by storm. But the Series 3, has moved the Apple Watch from a fun toy for tech-forward rich people to something so convenient and useful that anyone with the wherewithal and an iPhone should strongly consider it. Why? What if, leaving your phone at home, you could paddle board and still take phone calls? Jog and still listen to your tunes with your Air Pods? The addition of LTE gives us the opportunity to go unfettered from our phones for brief periods during the day.

Onboard storage stayed the same for the GPS-only version, but the LTE version doubles storage to 16GB.

One reason I went from iPhone to Nexus then Pixel was that there was no easy way to have my steps on the screen with an iPhone. The Apple Watch solves that problem with the Pedometer++ app providing a step “complication” (watch face feature). As my old surf watch begins to die, I’m also keeping a sharp eye on emerging surf apps for the Apple Watch (which is rated to 50 meters underwater).

The biggest limitation, is that it only works with an iPhone. Otherwise, Apple Watch would own the world.

Fossil Q Activist Hybrid Smart Watch

The Fossil Q Activist is no substitute for the features of an app wielding smartwatch (like an Apple Watch). The “hybrid” in the title means that it links with your phone to count steps, monitor your sleep, and nudges you with your phone notifications. You can shower or swim with it, but it won’t count laps or log how far you swim. So there are some things you sacrifice, but at only $155 it is a great value that looks stunning on one’s wrist. Also, you don’t need to charge it every night. Just change the battery every six months or so.

LG OLED55B7A OLED 4K HDR Smart TV

If you’re looking for the best TV display money can buy, LG uses the same glass on their B-series TV’s as they do on their top of the line. If you’re serious about image quality, this $1600 beauty is the gateway to the OLED drug. Watch for the $1500 Black Friday pricing. It has been amazing to watch the OLED pricing come down so dramatically. This TV costs about what I paid for my old plasma HD TV nine years ago. And back in 2014, when I first put an OLED TV on this list it cost $3500 to get one in HD!

TCL 55″ 55P607 4K UHD DOLBY VISION HDR ROKU SMART TV

There are those who argue that HDR is more important than 4K when viewing a TV from a normal distance. This little $650 gem provides HDR in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. While some expensive sets are literally omitting the TV tuner, essentially enslaving you to the cable company or an over the top (OTT) service, TCL hasn’t cheaped out there either. You can still hook up an antenna and watch TV for free. With 3 HDMI inputs, this is a value packed entertainment package. Roku doesn’t have the slick interface that Apple TV provides, but it does support all of the major apps including 4K YouTube, which the Apple TV lacks. (The Apple TV displays 4K YouTube videos in HD.) It may not have the highest rated display on the market, but from what I’ve seen it is pretty darn good and will put to shame the HD TV it is replacing in your home.

iPhone X

iPhone X has arrived in time for Christmas and it is the real deal. It has been a while since I could argue that Apple made the best cell phone money could buy. In fact, last year Apple failed to make my top 10 list at all. But the iPhone X is the best phone money can buy. It is Apple, so we are talking a butt load of money here with prices starting at $999. So, yeah, you will have to fork over the price of a pretty fine computer to get one but I believe that it is worth every penny. The camera didn’t score quite as high as the Pixel 2 in the DxOMark ratings, but most people won’t see the difference and the scores of the two phones were very close.

What about the awful notch, you ask? I choose not to think of it as a notch, but as a viewing area with ears where extra info can be displayed. I’ve played with it and it just doesn’t bother me. Using gestures instead of a home button also came to me very quickly and I don’t miss my old homey a bit. But what about the continued lack of an earphone jack? Okay, you got me on that one.

Samsung can match or even surpass the iPhone on features, but good luck getting one of those to last you a year before the battery won’t hold a charge and the performance slows to a crawl. The Pixel 2 XL is pretty but the screen is a disaster. The Pixel 2 looks like something from three years ago (or an iPhone 8). If you’re looking for the best phone money can buy and a purchase that won’t fill you with regret before it’s time for your next upgrade, this is the one to buy.

Well, that’s it. While many electronic products are maturing and not quite as revolutionary as they once were, 2017 still introduced us to some great new products. Go forth and shop!

Note: I make no money when you buy items from this page and was paid no money to endorse these products.

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